I hardly know enough about the hip-hop industry to get real deep about this; my students at the University of Cincinnati do what they can to keep me up on the genre and who is running things. But I can see with my own eyes some of the contradictions within the industry and the folks that control it. Is this latest "epiphany" regarding the words being used by rappers and even the suggestion to ban some of those words coming from the heart or is it coming from the pocket?
Aside from the fact that protests of rap lyrics have been made by others for years now, we act as though it's the first time, now that Russell Simmons has come out with his proposed ban. Simmons is on the television shows discussing the virtues and vices of rap lingo, and has gotten "religion" after all these years.
Mind you, he was explicit about his position. He said he was not trying to actually "ban" the words; he was proposing those words not be played, that they should be bleeped out.
When a television host suggested to Simmons that hip hop was on the way out, Russell laughed and said, "Don't tell my investors that." It was a funny line, but it spoke volumes. It gets us to the real issue behind this multi-billion dollar industry. Who is behind Simmons and who is behind the rap industry?
What most of us see as hip hop are guys in big jackets, baggy pants, hiking boots, gold and silver teeth and baseball caps, and don't forget about the ladies in thongs. They are the generators of billions in cash to the ones behind the industry, the shadowy figures who only come out to collect their huge profits.
There are a relative few who make the money — Simmons, Jay-Z, Puffy and Diddy, there are fewer still who do anything positive with what they make. The high-stakes game room is controlled by someone else. Even Simmons answers to someone else, and it's not Ben Chavis.
Now that hundreds of millions have been stashed in Simmons account, he is on tour espousing the virtues of linguistic political correctness. He is the Dali Lama of the Black experience, talking about the inner self and the force within and so much more. I used to think he had a speech problem because he would only say, "Thank you, and goodnight" on Def Comedy Jam. Boy, was I wrong about him.
The hip-hopcrisy runs rampant within the ranks of the Black elite. "Now that I have made a half billion dollars on these words, I think we should stop using them." BET's Debra Lee, in an interview, boasted about BET and what great work it does by bringing us the kind of programming we want to see. She said she gets feedback from her teenaged daughter who watches the shows on BET; you know, so they can bring us the shows we want to see, like Beef, American Gangster and degrading buffoonery, and, oh yeah, those great videos that Russell Simmons is railing against now.
Will Puffy or Diddy with his diamonds, Jay-Z with his champagne, Fifty-Cent with his bullet wounds, Snoop Dogg with his golden chalice, and the rest of them with their cars, trucks, grills, 24-inch rims and chinchilla coats, take Simmons' path and get religion about the words they use? Now that they have made their money off those same words? Will the executives continue to exploit the industry and continue to hide? And will the corporations looking to sell Black folks everything from soda pop to gym shoes continue to slither around and find ways to make their billions from the hip-hopsters too?
It seems we have totally bought in to what Nino Brown said about things not being personal, just business. We have been lulled to sleep by the shining cars and fists full of dollars being displayed by the rappers. And we have fallen, once again, for feel-good, couch-talk reflections and introspection from the hip hop elite.
One thing we can be sure of though, amid this episode of hip-hopcrisy, at least one of the elite will remain "true to da game" as they say. Snoop admitted he was talking about bitches and ho's by saying, "We're talking about ho's that's in the 'hood that ain't doing sh—, that's trying to get a n—-a for his money." No hip-hopcrisy in the Dogg, folks. I guess that's what's called "keepin' it real."
James Clingman is founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce and professor at the University of Cincinnati.